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SG-W:/ Opportunity to learn about ag community



I hope folks will consider the opportunity presented in the AA News 
article below. I may call Mike myself, but if anyone else does get 
involved, please share your findings with us.

Steve

============BEGIN ARTICLE===========

Ambassadors promote agriculture

Program stresses communication between farmers, community

Thursday, July 29, 1999

By PAMELA J. APPEA
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
----------------------

The Washtenaw County/MSU Extension Service is launching an 
"AgAmbassadors" program this fall so that farmers and nonfarmers 
canbetter understand each other.
Due to perceived tension and miscommunication between the twogroups, the 
Washtenaw-area Agricultural Advisory Council - a group offarmers and 
Michigan State University agricultural administrators - decided to start 
a program to promote better understanding of local agricultural practices.

Also, because of the low use of locally produced Washtenaw agricultural 
products - most Washtenaw County grains or meat are exported out of the 
county - "mutually beneficial" business opportunities could be an 
additional perk of the program, MSU administrators said.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," said Nancy Thelen, MSU Extension director.

The extension office is looking for 10 county residents, including 
business professionals and local community leaders, to participate in the 
federally funded program and then pass on the information they learn to 
others, said Mike Score, the local Extension agricultural agent.

The program, which runs for a year and is funded with a grant of about 
$3,000, starts Sept. 18 with a Rural Community Appreciation Tour 
orientation. The agricultural ambassadors, who will be selected for 
community involvement and interest in agricultural issues, will tour 
Way-lene Acres Dairy Farm, Shady Hills Farm and Plymouth Orchard during 
four meetings in 1999-2000.

"By educating 10 people, they become ambassadors to other nonfarmers, and 
they will let nonfarmers know what local agricultural concerns are," said 
Score.

The "Ag ambassadors" program won't just be quaint farm tours, Score said. 
The program will emphasize the difficulties in farming, and ambassadors 
will do some hands-on work, including milking cows and baling hay, in 
addition to talking to farmers. The group will meet at different points 
in the year to educate the ambassadors about the weather-related 
difficulties farmers may face.

Currently there are 200 full-time farmers in Washtenaw County, said Score.

Although Washtenaw County farms have dwindled in numbers in the past 30 
years, 160,000 acres of land are still used for farming, Thelen and Score 
said.

Score, who works with farmers on educational programs, said many have 
expressed concerns that nonfarmers don't care where Washtenaw County corn 
goes or that farming land in developing areas are not seen as relevant to 
the entire community.

"If I move to the country because I think it looks nice, but then 
complain (to the town hall) that farmers are spreading manure (around 
their fields) or running their tractor, (conflict) arises," said Score.

On the other side of the spectrum, some local farmers complain that 
nonfarming "newcomers" don't respect private property boundaries in 
Washtenaw County's rural areas, he said.

These basic conflicts could be averted if farmers and nonfarmers take the 
time to learn about each other and talk to each other, said Score.

The "Ag Ambassador" program, Score said, is an important first step.

Score said he hopes the program will also get business-minded "Ag 
Ambassadors" aware and excited about agribusiness opportunities.

Although some Washtenaw County residents do make a habit of buying 
locally produced fruits and vegetables, Score said, there is no medium 
for selling other Washtenaw county grains and agricultural products, 
including corn, soybeans, wheat, beef, and pork - which local farms ship 
out of the county.

Buying locally produced grains or other food does not guarantee that the 
price will be lower. However, Score said, one benefit of supporting 
Washtenaw county agriculture might be better product quality.

The "Ag Ambassador" outreach program may expand and become an annual 
program in the next several years, MSU agricultural administrators said.

Anyone interested in the Ag Ambassadors program should contact Mike Score 
at (734)971-0079, extension 2619, by Aug. 20.


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